Ellen DeGeneres leaves 'American Idol'; rumors fly about replacement judge

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, July 30, 2010; C01

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. Ellen DeGeneres is out on "American Idol."

DeGeneres will not return as a judge on the hit singing competition series, Fox announced Thursday. And more judge changes are in store as the network tries to stem an alarming loss of viewers.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Lopez appears to be the show's new Paula Abdul. J-Lo's career has been on the fast track to nowhere of late and, according to the Web site Deadline.com, she has brokered a deal to step in and replace Ellen, who in turn had replaced Paula.

For J-Lo, a move to "Idol" would mark a return to the Fox network. Like Paula, J-Lo was a dancer first -- the singer-actress got her big TV break as a backup dancer on the network's sketch comedy show "In Living Color" in the early '90s. Fox declined to comment late Thursday on the report about J-Lo.

Sources say the suits behind the show wanted Ellen gone. On Thursday, they handed her the knife, issuing a statement saying, "Ellen DeGeneres has decided to bow out from her role as a judge on 'American Idol' next season." The statement included a quote from Ellen, which says: "A couple months ago, I let Fox and the 'American Idol' producers know that this didn't feel like the right fit for me."

"We love Ellen and understand and support her decision to bow out of 'Idol,' " Peter Rice, chairman of entertainment, for Fox Networks Group, even said in the announcement.

However it happened, the good news -- the thing for us to focus on -- is that she's gone. Monday, which is Fox's day at Summer TV Press Tour 2010, is going to be major with the remaining "Idol" judges' status on everyone's minds.

Sources say the exit of Ellen, who survived just one season, is not the producers' last move. We already know Simon Cowell is gone, and Kara DioGuardi's contract had not been renewed as of press time.

Nigel Lythgoe, who has returned to the show, had been advocating for a gut job. Lythgoe, who executive-produced "Idol" for many years before leaving in summer of '08 to focus exclusively on "So You Think You Can Dance," was no fan of the lineup -- telling pretty much anyone who would listen, including Zap2it.com in April: "I would replace the entire judging panel."

"They don't have a great deal of chemistry at the moment," he said, stating the obvious, about Ellen, Kara, Simon and Randy Jackson.

"It's uncomfortable to watch," Lythgoe said, speaking for us all and adding: "Ellen hasn't worked out as well as we would have hoped."

Ellen was a bad fit from the get-go. The comic-turned-sitcom star-turned-daytime talk-show host started her "Idol" career on the same day Simon came to Winter TV Press Tour 2010 to announce that he was quitting the show. She was never comfortable performing the responsibilities of an "Idol" judge, and her pre-written gags almost always fell with a thud on performance nights.

In that April interview, Lythgoe blue-skied that if he could get anyone to judge "Idol," it would be Usher, Elton John and Abdul.

Not coincidentally, their names have all turned up in recent speculation as to who will replace Simon on the singing competition, which has seen its ratings sink dramatically the past couple of seasons, though it remains the country's most-watched program.

Other pop-culture names are being spitballed as Reporters Who Cover Television play Let's Re-Cast "Idol." The list includes Chris Isaak, Harry Connick Jr. and Jessica Simpson. And let's not forget Jamie Foxx, Bret Michaels, Howard Stern -- and, of course, Donald Trump.

Shatner vs. Malvo

Want to know how to get killers to make full confessions? Put them on a reality series.

A&E announced Thursday that William Shatner -- yes, that William Shatner -- got an interview with Lee Boyd Malvo during which, A&E says, Malvo said that he and accomplice John Allen Muhammad committed about 42 shootings across the country and that, early on, they worked with three co-conspirators.

According to A&E, Malvo said in a phone interview that he told The Actor Formerly Known as Capt. Kirk that the three extra snipers were going to use silenced rifles to create terror along the Eastern seaboard. The three eventually backed out of the plan. And Malvo's forensic psychiatrist, a "Dr. Blumberg," told The Actor Also Formerly Known as Denny Crane that this back-out resulted in Muhammad commanding Malvo to kill two of them for not following through, the network reported.

Their unwillingness to become snipers resulted in two being killed by Malvo, A&E claims, citing Blumberg as its source. The third co-conspirator's whereabouts are unknown.

Malvo also claims that he purchased weapons from a white supremacist group in Arizona. No, you cannot make this stuff up.

(According to a Post story today, though, authorities say Malvo is indeed making some of this stuff up.)

Time for Shatner's soliloquy: "Getting the opportunity to speak with Lee Malvo is a moment I'll never forget. He was only 17 when he committed these horrific acts, a monster forged by the only father figure in his life, and it was simply astonishing that he's found the maturity and humility to admit so many new crimes in his effort to make amends."

"Confessions of the D.C. Sniper With William Shatner: An Aftermath Special" is airing Friday night on the cable network formerly known as Arts & Entertainment.

On Thursday morning, TV critics tore their hair out when they got word of the sensational Shatner interview from A&E. If only they had known about this 24 hours earlier, when Shatner came to Summer TV Press Tour 2010 to talk about his new role as Cute-Crazy Dad on "$#*! My Dad Says."

During that session, the most sensational thing to happen was Shatner's response when one fuddy-duddy critic, who assumed a 79-year-old actor would have "old-fashioned sensibilities," asked him: "With your old-fashioned sensibilities, wouldn't you love for them to change the title" of the show?

"Do you know what I wish? I wish they would call it [feces]," Shatner shot back. No, he didn't actually use the word "feces" but we have standards.

"What's wrong with [feces]?" Shatner asked, expanding on his theme.

"I brought up three girls. They've all got kids. And you say, 'You've got to make poo-poo.' Come on! Eventually 'poo-poo' becomes '[feces].' . . . The word [feces] is around us. It isn't a terrible term. It's a natural function. Why are we pussyfooting?"

Critics clapped -- not realizing that Shatner was pulling a fast one on them and saving his big news for the next morning. You absolutely cannot trust actors.

'The Big C'

Hey, kids -- want to know what really sucks all the air out of the room at Summer TV Press Tour 2010? A Showtime Q&A session about cancer as comedy.

"The Big C," debuting Aug. 16, stars Laura Linney as a reserved Minneapolis school teacher Cathy Jamison, who learns she has terminal cancer and decides to stop being so constipated and live a little, so she gets a Brazilian wax down there and burns her sofa 'cause she's always hated it, and single-camera hilarity ensues. Feel the magic metastasize!

At Thursday's Q&A session for the show, some critics understandably wondered: With so many people's lives having been touched -- and not in a benign way -- by cancer, did the American public really wanted to watch a show about the dreaded disease, even if it is a comedy?

Showtime gets credit for being courageous enough to put on this series at all. Let's face it, a broadcast network would never pick up a show about a woman who has terminal cancer, unless she was hot, and young, and turned out to be a robot -- and also an assassin.

But, weirdly, when one critic -- who, we're guessing, is the kind of person who reads the last page of a book before starting at Page 1 -- wanted to be assured that Linney's character would really die by the end of the show, everyone onstage went all hushed, like adults used to get when discussing the C-word:

"I don't want to miss out on what happens before that -- if it happens," Linney said primly, and then began to talk about all the "amazing" treatments" that have recently been developed specifically for melanoma -- the form of cancer Cathy suffers from.

Otherwise the Q&A session mostly limped along, with "I think everyone's experience with a terminal disease is deeply personal," various actors gushing about how they were attracted to the show after reading the script, and "Laura Linney is amazing," according to Gabourey Sidibe, who plays one of Linney's students on the show.

It appeared things might get interesting when one critic wondered whether anyone onstage had cancer. Exec producer Darlene Hunt began to caution nervously that the show is not the place for people to go for information if they've just received a cancer diagnosis.

Later, exec producer Jenny Bicks acknowledged that she is the "affirmative-action survivor of this group."

"I had a nurse tell me, 'Don't tell anyone,' " said Bicks, who reacted by going out and buying a Porsche.

"I thought, 'What the hell -- why am I waiting?' " she said. "There are some people who shelter themselves and get hermetic. I chose to take some risks."

CW at the ready

Thursday at Summer TV Press Tour 2010 kicked off with Showtime, which has no head of programming: Robert Greenblatt, who had the gig, is gone, and David Nevins, his replacement, doesn't start until Monday.

So there was no executive Q&A, and no one for TV critics to ask about former ABC Entertainment president Steve McPherson and his hasty exit from that Disney-owned network.

But CW programming chief Dawn Ostroff came to the tour her usual over-prepped self and had a McPherson question answer read to go:

"I have been in this job, between UPN and now CW, for nine years and I wish Steve all the best," she said, when asked how it felt to have outlasted McPherson in these jobs. An Ostroff-ian non-answer!

"What happened [when you heard the news] besides wishing him all the best?" the critic persevered. "Did you find it a stunning surprise?"

"I always say, they are rented seats," Ostroff said sweetly. "It's part of the business. I've seen a lot of people come and go from these jobs and a lot of people who I respect a lot go for different reasons. Unfortunately, it's not that unusual."

But McPherson's departure might be shaping up as "unusual." In the latest Steve McPherson is Gone News, he has retained legal pit bull Marty Singer to "deal with" the false and defamatory stories fueled by unknown and anonymous sources that have been appearing in the media since his resignation from ABC.

That came one day after a McPherson rep issued a deliciously vague and intriguing statement: "It is not uncommon for high-level executives to be the subject of gossip and innuendo," including "rumors of internal situations, which can easily be misinterpreted or misrepresented."

"Seems like it goes with the territory, and there is nothing further to discuss," Hoberman said in the statement.

Which, of course, set off a flurry of discussing it further. The attorney's statement was issued after reports began to pop up on the Web speculating about the possible cause for McPherson's resignation.

Military programming

Washington CBS affiliate WUSA's Sunday program "This Week in Defense News With Vago Muradian" will be available on the military-centric American Forces Network -- a radio and television network that serves military bases and U.S. Navy ships around the globe.

The deal for the additional distribution starts on Aug. 2. American Forces Network reaches about 1 million viewers.

The half-hour talk show "This Week in Defense News" focuses on national defense and military issues. It was added to WUSA's Sunday lineup in March 2008 and is co-produced by WUSA and Defense News -- a weekly publication put out by Army Times Publishing. WUSA and Defense News are owned by Gannett.

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